Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 3/2/12
ORLANDO The Oklahoma City Thunder are what the Orlando Magic wishes it could be a small market team with a superstar who loves where he is. The Magic, unfortunately, don't have what the Thunder do. And Dwight Howard is no Kevin Durant. The Thunder and Durant today are flying toward the NBA Finals, sporting the best record (29-7) in the league. The Magic and Howard are headed for a bitter divorce, about to go down in flames. One is a happy town, a happy team. The other isn't sure what to do. The contrast was never more obvious than Thursday night when the Thunder erased an 11-point, four-quarter deficit and rode Durant to a 105-102 victory. Both teams had played on the road the night before, but only one team played hard until the end Thursday. And only one of the stars carried his team down the stretch. It isn't hard to guess which team, or which star, did what. "Our fourth quarter defense was pathetic," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We didn't deserve to win." Durant, who was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game on the same court just four days before, had a game-high 38 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter when he hit five of his six shots and two of three from long range. He left Howard in his wake Sunday, and he did it again Thursday. Howard had 33 points, but only eight in the fourth, failing to raise his level of play. His inability to make free throws prevents him from being a late-game, game-winner like Durant has become, a happy hero in his new hometown. Howard, conversely, who once held Orlando in his hands, has cast a dark cloud over his franchise, sent it into disarray, requesting a trade before the trade deadline March 15 so he could play in a bigger market to make himself more marketable. If the Magic don't trade him, he will leave on his own as a free agent this summer, leaving them to wilt once again. Durant just shook his head Thursday night at the thought. "Different guys think different things. Oklahoma City is the best place for me to play. With myself, it's basketball first, and I love playing for this organization. I love Oklahoma City," he said. "I'm thankful to play for this organization. I understand marketing and stuff, big cites, and that's cool for off-the-court things, but I'm more of a basketball player. I play basketball. I wouldn't want to leave the guys in this locker room." Howard, conversely, has made it clear he would like better teammates, giving him a better chance to win a championship, touching off a season of trade rumors. Especially in the last few days, the speculation over Howard's future has been all over the map, almost comical in the range of scenarios that various media outlets have reported. Stories have ranged from Howard being traded before the deadline to either New York or Golden State or one of 28 other teams. There also have been reports that the Magic are trying to trade for everyone from Boston's Rajon Rondo to Phoenix Steve Nash -- and not in exchange for Howard -- to give him a point guard he likes, and one that will prompt him to stay in Orlando. Monte Ellis of the Warriors has been thrown into the mix. The Knicks have offered Amare Stoudemire and the Statue of Liberty, the Nets Brook Lopez and the vice-presidency of Russia. The Lakers have dangled Magic Johnson AND Jerry West, if you believe some of the stories. In reality, almost everyone on the Magic roster has been offered up in various trade scenarios, either with Howard or without Howard, which has been a strain on everyone in the organization. "I don't care how professional you are, it has to be unnerving for these guys," Van Gundy said before the game. "The only time they can get away from it is when they're on the court. I think the mindset of most of the guys now is let's just get it over with." Durant, meanwhile, has what the Howard doesn't a co-star in guard Russell Westbrook, a slightly younger version of what Miami has with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. It's no coincidence that Oklahoma City and Miami have the best records in their respective conferences. It takes two (stars) today to win a championship. Westbrook, who played the fourth quarter on a sprained ankle, had 29 points. When Durant had 36 points at the All-Star Game, Westbrook had 21. Durant is averaging 27.7 points and 7.9 rebounds Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds. "He takes so much pressure off me," Durant said. "He does it all, stuff you can't teach. He's phenomenal the way he makes me better, makes us all better. He's a great leader for us. I love this team."
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